It's Not My Fault

A recent story making its rounds through the blogosphere (see Pam’s post here and The Fixer’s post here, for a start) reports on a study that reveals a third of American high school students believe there should be greater restrictions on the press. It gets worse:
The survey of 112,003 students finds that 36% believe newspapers should get "government approval" of stories before publishing; 51% say they should be able to publish freely; 13% have no opinion.

Asked whether the press enjoys "too much freedom," not enough or about the right amount, 32% say "too much," and 37% say it has the right amount. Ten percent say it has too little.


Kids aren't learning enough about the First Amendment in history, civics or English classes. It also tracks closely with recent findings of adults' attitudes.
I’m not totally convinced that these pro-censorship attitudes are strictly a result of lack of knowledge about the First Amendment. I don’t doubt that’s part of it, but I believe the attitudes are representative of a more pervasive and insidious problem that manifests itself in a myriad of ways, this being merely one. That problem is intellectual laziness, and not simply a lack of curiosity in and of itself (which is a problem as old as dirt), but a willful self-denial of knowledge as part of comprehensive method to deflect personal responsibility.

It’s not that these kids don’t want to learn about the First Amendment and the importance of a free press in the same way they don’t want to learn about derivatives or predicate nomitives; it’s that they actively don’t want to know. And neither do the adults around them, which is why the numbers track so closely between teens and adults.

Self-imposed ignorance has become a successful self-defense mechanism of the Right—a means by which to hold outlandish political beliefs while deflecting any responsibility for holding them. Anyone who’s found themselves arguing with a conservative about an underreported scandal of the Bush administration has no doubt heard this challenge: If that’s true, then why isn’t it in on the news? (And often, thanks to our impotent and browbeaten media, it isn’t.) Imagine how much more difficult it would be to continue to support their rootin’-tootin’ cowboy president if everything from his service record to the payola scandal was reported with the attention (and accuracy) it deserved. Complete and unbiased information is a threat; it’s no coincidence that the more educated one is, the more likely to be a liberal one is as well.

The unfair and unbalanced reporting of Fox News, or the maniacal rantings of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage et. al.—peppered with half-truths and miscontexualizations, but delivered convincingly enough—act as a security blanket for the brain-dead legions, who prefer to have their thinking done for them. It’s so much easier to adopt someone else’s opinion than hold their own. Plowing through multiple news stories from multiple perspectives on multiple topics, forming an opinion based on careful and reasoned analysis of facts, is not only hard work (right, Mr. Bush?), but also carries with it the undesirable burden of responsibility. If you are the architect of your own opinions, you can be held accountable for them.

When I hear a conservative accusing liberals of believing whatever the New York Times (for example) tells them to believe, it infuriates me. Aside from the fact that I don’t find the Times particularly liberal, I find the suggestion that one’s opinions could be externally formed by a single source absolutely repellent. Yet many conservatives will proudly announce that they watch Fox News or read the Washington Times exclusively. Don’t confuse me with the facts. Should they be proven wrong, it’s not that they hold foolish opinions; it’s the fault of Fox or the Times. How was I supposed to know? It’s not my fault.

The worst of this lot are those with the most indefensible beliefs—the racists, the homophobes, the sexists, the false patriots, the vile masquerading as the godly. They sheath themselves from anything that would rightly compromise such abhorrent notions. It’s is also no coincidence that the most impassioned Christian activists tend to know little about the Bible, or that those who most fervently support the war couldn’t find Iraq on a map.

It’s not their fault, though. It’s the liberal schoolteachers who teach tolerance instead of geography, and the secularists who took prayer out of school, and…

It’s not my fault, they mutter, as they bury their hands in the sand, denying themselves knowledge to protect themselves from the shame they’ve rightfully earned.

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